Tahliah Barnett, better known as FKA Twigs, certainly has the pedigree of someone who makes woozy R&B. She’s called Gloucestershire and London home, has familial roots in Jamaica and Spain, and has been an artistic force in dance and vocals from an early age. Now 26 years old, she’s released her first full-length, and it’s a strikingly confident debut that injects a sense of intimacy and experimentation into the modern R&B formula most often associated with acts like The Weeknd and How To Dress Well.
LP1 lays out its sonic palette—touches of Grimes, Burial, and Aaliyah—early on with the opening one-two punch of “Preface” and “Lights On.” “Preface” uses layered vocals, echo, and glitchy drums to create a pulsing and disorienting opener, a precursor to the abstract sounds that balance out the album’s more straightforward R&B influences. “I love another / And thus I hate myself” she sings in an operatic tone, nonchalantly lifting a line from the 16th century English poet Sir Thomas Wyatt that acts as a thematic jumping-off point; if anything, LP1 is a meditation on the self-destructive and uplifting powers of love and lust. “Lights On” explores trust and insecurity in sexual relationships and is perhaps most indicative of Barnett’s various strengths, including a strong grasp of melody and a huge vocal range. Overtop of sparse percussive elements and a whining synth, Barnett moves from a stuttering, breathy delivery to a soaring falsetto at the crescendo, where she touches on vulnerability and consent; “When I trust you / We can do it with the lights on,” is one of the more memorable and devastating hooks on the record.
Throughout the record, Barnett portrays a confidence in her voice that’s consistently contrasted against the erratic arrangements and lyrical examinations of inadequacy and insecurity. “Two Weeks,” which boasts a vast soundscape of skittering electronic snares and cavernous synths, is a sultry ode to physical intimacy, Barnett gasping and elongating syllables in equal parts ecstasy and exasperation. The appropriately titled “Pendulum” swings back and forth between disappointment and nostalgia when looking back on a failed romance, underscored by creaking industrial sounds, as if the bottom end could collapse at any minute and leave Barnett’s voice isolated and drifting. Elsewhere, “Video Girl” deploys a slow burn, the cooing vocal harmonies and capricious drumbeat struggling to keep up with the various tempo changes.
What makes LP1 so remarkable is the fact that Barnett manages to craft a cohesive aesthetic that draws on modern R&B and electronic while also remaining inventive. This is a record that creeps up on listeners, the unpredictable rhythms and tones coming in clearer after each session. Throughout, Barnett pushes the limits of her range, plumbs the depth of her emotions, and pokes at the boundaries of genre signifiers. Few debuts possess such control and ambition all in one; LP1 is the rare album that manages to sound both lived in and completely futuristic.